Scottish Folk at The Royal Oak


It was my last night in Edinburgh by myself and I decided to go out for a drink. I knew I didn’t want to go to a pub near the touristy part of town so I head over towards Edinburgh University looking for a place. Walking around Edinburgh is a pleasure as the city is so beautiful. Even in January the city is awesome.

Almost the first place I saw was a pub called “The Royal Oak” and the sign outside said “Live Music 7 Nights A Week”. I didn’t want to pay a cover but I figured there might not be one yet since it was early in the night still. When I walked inside the door, I noticed three things.

One, the place was tiny, twenty people would be totally pack the place. Two, all five people at the bar just stopped talking and turned around to look at me. Three, there was something else really weird about this place. Undaunted I walked up to the bar and ordered a Guinness (The Guinness in the UK is 1000 times better than the already really good Guinness here in the United States). The the guy I am standing next to says something incomprehensible to me and I can’t tell if it was the accent or if he was speaking Scottish Gaelic. I look at him with a confused look on my face and he repeats himself. This time I get that he is asking me about a name and wants to know if it belongs to me. I let him know that it’s not me. To my relief he tells me that they all stopped talking when I came in because someone had called looking for that person right before I walked in, and not because I walked in.

Sipping my beer on the other side of the room (7 feet away, they use the English system of measurement there too) I sat and listened to these guys talking about all kinds of things. Really just mainly enjoying their accents and their banter. Obviously these guys were in here almost every night and knew each other only from the bar and not outside it. The whole time there was this sneaking feeling that something was really off in this room. 

All of a sudden the bartender picked up a guitar from behind the bar and started playing a song. She was fantastic. Her voice was really amazing and I had never heard one carry so loud in my life. I guess I am used to people singing into microphones or not being real singers in the first place. Her song was awesome and it seemed like it an original that she had written. I thought, “So this is the kind of live music bar it is… the bartender plays songs throughout the night … this is awesome … I am really glad that I stumbled on this place …” and then when she finished her song I figured out what was so strange about the whole thing. 

There was no music playing in the background, the place was really tiny compared to the average pub and there were no televisions in sight. These things together tugged at my subconscious until I figured them out.

This place was totally fantastic. A little while passed while the talking resumed until two more guys walked into the bar with a few instrument cases. One of them had a guitar and a violin and the other guy had a drum. They took a little while to set up in the corner and a few more people started coming in. When they started playing I was blown away. They played Scottish Folk songs. The music all by itself was good but that wasn’t what so impressed me.

What impressed me was the guys voice, along with the fact that everyone in the bar seemed to know all the songs. I don’t know if this was a special case and just weird or not but here I know that most people don’t really know American Folk songs anymore. Most people might know a verse or two of some of them but  barely anyone knows even 3 complete american folk songs. I mean songs like “Oh! Susanna” or “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” or, I can’t even name one more…

Everyone in the bar knew almost every song and was singing along. In between songs some old guy from the audience would just start singing and either every one would sit politely listening or they would join in. Someone else might go over and borrow the guitar for a song. Apart from being slightly drunk I had never experienced anything like it before. When the guys went out to take a cigarette break mostly the bartender but some some others too filled for them.

I stayed at the bar late listening to music with a big grin on my face all night. Eventually I went back to the hostel that I was staying in for the night as I had to catch a train in the morning. As the bartender in London told me, if you are ever in Edinburgh and need a place to stay you should go to the Cowgate Hostel on the street called Cowgate. There are two hostels there, it is the one more towards the middle and off the main street. She was right. Now believe me, if you are looking for a good night out with something awesome and unique, check out The Royal Oak.

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2 Responses to “Scottish Folk at The Royal Oak”

  1. […] some amazing things that happened to me while I was there: I rode a sleeper train around, visited The Royal Oak, learned how to drive stick in downtown Edinburgh during rush hour, I watched a sunrise in THE […]

  2. […] travelled to Scotland and stayed with a Brazilian woman who was going to school in Edinburgh. We sat around and talked a bunch and gave my sore feet a well needed break, and my brain ideas of […]

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